Mar 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Maybe what makes someone act like a Chaos Climber is just the craving for simplicity: the simplicity of a single enemy, responsible for all evil things. That enemy, of course, is the American Establishment.

But if the only fight worth fighting is "down with Establishment America," then you're going to want, very badly, to find a way to blame the Establishment for whatever's wrong.

Usually that's fine; you can be anti-establishment without being openly crazy. Crime, poverty and sickness? It's because Washington is in the thrall of evil businessmen / evil socialists (choose your side's flavor) who are stealing our money / corrupting our values. Simple! You can say the same lines, every time, and always know you're fighting the good fight.

But then something like "Russia invades Ukraine" happens. What are your lines? How do you blame the establishment for this? It's confusing! Where's your simplicity gone?

Fortunately, Russian propaganda has suggestions you can follow, showing you how to keep it all America's fault. With Russia's kind help, you can go on blaming the establishment.

I guess some people want a little too badly to have One Weird Trick that lets them explain the whole world of politics. Especially a trick that promises they'll always be The Noble Underdog against The Man.

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Mar 21, 2022·edited Mar 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

This is a truly good column, and very much matches my thoughts.

There's one point I must note though: Much of the liberal international order was perfectly willing to let Ukraine fail. Had Putin limited himself to a 'minor incursion' or managed to win within 72 hours - as many analysts expected at the start - he'd have gotten away with it. It's the Ukrainian resistance that deserves most of the credit here, Russia's weakness and corruption the second place, and the international response gets the third place. That's not such a good look.

Now, assuming Putin loses, the big question that remains is how many of the existing order's flaws will be fixed - or whether this episode will lead to overconfidence and return of the reasons that led to the war in the first place. Will the European states remain committed to NATO? Or will they say 'Russia is a paper tiger, no need to invest, not when I can divert funds to my favorite election-winning projects!' Will Russia be abandoned again, or will the West have a realistic policy finally? Will the energy transition advance further? Will the UN remain useless? (ok, nothing to done there) If Russia loses, will the EU try neutrality with China?

1) The extent of EU countries' commitment to NATO remains to be seen. The statements are nice, but that's very easy now. The true test will come a few years from now.

2) There are truly good news on the energy front, at least in EU. In America, the discussion seems to have turned to partisan slinging (and not so many solutions) as usual.

3) Granted, this is a bit in the future, but it's clear many countries will never look at Russia the same way. I expect this to be translated into policy.

So I'd give 1.5 out of 3, for now.

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Occam's Razor tells me that there isn't a grand reason. Edgelords do edgelording for a simple reason: they are narcissists who want attention, and edge takes provide that attention.

Looking for a coherent ideology from the rantings of Marjorie Taylor Greene is like analyzing the lyrics of a song sung by a singing dog. You are surprised the dog is barking to music, but if you try to ascribe meaning, you might be barking up the wrong tree.

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I don't think the pro-Putin folks (or the people you're describing as pro-Putin, who might not consider themselves to be such) care that much about who wins the war. Nor do they care about the effect of the war on the liberal international order. For the most part, they oppose US support for Ukraine because they think US support for Ukraine is bad.

On the right, this is often America-first isolationism. Sometimes it's people who consider Putin an ally in the culture war, which is the only war they care about.

On the left, it's mostly people who will reflexively disagree with anything the US security establishment says.

I'd be curious what portion of the far-right and the far-left support Putin in the war. Just because all the pro-Putin folks are members of the far-right/far-left doesn't mean that all the far-right/far-left are pro-Putin.

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I"ve witnessed a queer socialist fall into online radicalism and side with anti-LGBTQ regimes like Russia simply for the fact they believe America is the source of all evil and anything against America or the mainstream narrative must be "good and true". The radical left and right have strangely found much common ground in their internet rabbit holes and are both angry as hell at "the system" and "mainstream media" and the mysterious "cabal that controls everything". They've both gone full in on the tinfoil hat society. It's kind of disturbing. They also tend to be much older people. . .Nowadays it not the kids to join cults. . . it's their parents!

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The symmetry you're proposing between the right and left seems unfair to me. Leading figures on the left, by my observation, have not been acting the same way as leading figures on the right. Bernie has been pretty unequivocal in his condemnation of Putin. Moreover, here is Chomsky on the invasion of Ukraine: "Before turning to the question, we should settle a few facts that are uncontestable. The most crucial one is that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a major war crime, ranking alongside the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Hitler-Stalin invasion of Poland in September 1939, to take only two salient examples. It always makes sense to seek explanations, but there is no justification, no extenuation." (https://truthout.org/articles/noam-chomsky-us-military-escalation-against-russia-would-have-no-victors/)

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One thing I wanted to add -

For many right-wingers (definitely Le Pen in France, quite likely Trump in the USA), there is also the simplest of reason - hard cash.

Putin has been bankrolling quite a few 'conservative insurgency' in order to create that chaos he too hoped to strive on...

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One of these things is not like the others. Seems like a huge distortion to count #1 and #3 as "pro-Putin" views. One could hate Putin's guts and still accept both of them. #2 is obviously more robustly pro-Putin.

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You can see this here as well. The GOP reps who voted against the oil ban are exactly the far-right lunatics you'd expect while the Dems were...Cori Bush and Ilhan Omar (but she's all cool with BDS, which should tell us what her true ideology is).

I think that if every Putin-Versteher were primaried out that politics would get a lot better.


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I think this article works for the Right, and sort of for the left, though I don't see a path to those type of leftists taking over the Democratic Party, but I do think it misses one important group, I think the most numerous, though maybe calling them a group is incorrect as they are by their nature so dispersed and that is the Grifters.

There are a lot of ppl who have discovered that Social Media is a way to gather quite lucrative niches, these niches might be less than a 10th of a 10th a percent of 'your side' of politics, but if u r getting $7 a month to subscribe to your Substack or Patreon or GoFundMe or whatever, you only need to get 3,000 or so and you are on really really good money, then all the incentives are to keep feeding this group what they want, this doesn't require intellect or contacts or talent to make it in mainstream politics or media, they don't have much hope or even really desire to gain real power, but if they can keep talking to their little niche & most importantly keep getting paid from them they don't have to go and get an actual job and work for a living

Look at Glenn Greenwald, a truly vile person who has no hope of even gaining any real power on the left, even though that is where he picked up his first fans, then he used the Bernie campaign to join the anti-Democratic Party part of the left, before moving to anti-anti-Trumpism, you see his Substack numbers and he is getting more than 100,000 subscribers, a tiny number when it comes to actual impact politically, but $70,000 a month is a massive incentive to keep feeding cranks what it is they want to hear. Now FWIW I believe Greenwald does genuinely hold all his vile views, so maybe he isn't be best example, same goes for Taibbi who made the same journey, but for those any many others $70,000-$150,000 per month per month is a huge incentive to keep feeding cranks what they want to hear, hell even 10% of that is a great incentive to keep doing so, especially if you don't like the idea of working for a living

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Sounds plausible. These chaos climbers are of course exactly the opposite of what anyone should want in government. They want power but have no real idea what to do with it more than whatever benefits them and gives them more power, i.e. more chaos.

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In the 1990s the liberal order talked about reform, occasionally passing unpopular but necessary legislation. Faith that this can and will happen again is a recurring theme here. I sincerely hope that after this or maybe the next enemy is slain we can get busy with reforming pensions etc. Its pretty shattering to lose faith.

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Oh no, banning the PSPU, the party that allies itself with David Duke and Lyndon LaRouche on their shared anti-semitism and supports Dugin's "Eurasianism". Whatever shall we do when fascists who support enemies in wartime are banned?

They're about as socialist as the NSDAP.

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As Steve Grumbine recently observed, somewhat belatedly: "there is no international law".

And logic tells us that to establish international law, you need an ICJ backed by a UNSC minus each member's veto. Otherwise you just have nations acting in their own perceived interests, while claiming to be part of a "rules based system".

...which is the trap Noah is falling into, in this article.

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Wrote a lengthy twitter thread: the TL;DR version is we're living in a 1930s - esque moment where several actors benefit from weakening America/theWest's power on the world stage. The current liberal order works against countries attempting to conquer neighbors. Russia, China, and others are stymied from conquering nations (or at least dominating them) in their near abroad. Putin's invasion of Ukraine is less a miss calculation, although it is that too, than an attempt to break America's stranglehold on Russia's ability to exert its influence.

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Wow, this post really brought out the leftist Putin-Versteher. A hit dog will holler.

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